RCMP start to clear Indigenous pipeline protest camps in northern B.C.

Police have arrived at the Gitdumden checkpoint south of Houston

Police have moved to enforce an interim injunction against the Unist’ot’en camp, Gitdumden checkpoint and any other blockades set up south of Houston.

As of press time Monday morning, members of the RCMP were waiting to meet with hereditary chiefs at the Gitdumden blockade on Morice River Road. Police were only allowing hereditary chiefs through a roadblock they set up.

The temporary injunction was approved in B.C. Supreme Court to allow Coastal GasLink workers through to begin preliminary work on the natural gas pipeline. It also allows the Unist’ot’en defendants including Unist’ot’en spokesperson and Witset Band councillor Freda Huson and her husband, Sun house (of the neighbouring Laksamshu, or fireweed and owl clan) hereditary Chief Smogelgem (Warner Naziel) to respond by Jan. 31. A more permanent decision is adjourned until May 1, unless both parties agree to a different date.

Unist’ot’en or Dark House Chief Knedebeas (Warner William) was not named in the claim filed by Coastal GasLink, but has voiced his support of the blockade along with other Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs.

The 670-km pipeline needs to be built to bring natural gas from northeast B.C. to Kitimat’s LNG Canada export terminal if the $40-billion LNG Canada project in Kitimat is to go ahead as early as 2022.

READ MORE: Coastal GasLink gets interim injunction against Unist’ot’en

A post on the Unist’ot’en Facebook page said the RCMP enforcement was an “act of war,” and called for international help with donations or “physical support.”

Stikine MLA and Rural Development Minister Doug Donaldson was at the Gitdumden checkpoint Sunday, but could not be reached for comment by press time. His provincial NDP government support the project. Premier John Horgan was in Smithers in August to meet with hereditary chiefs. Nothing was agreed to.

Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP Nathan Cullen said on social media he spoke with hereditary chiefs and would visit the checkpoint to support a peaceful resolution. He has also come out in support of the project.

Callers to Black Press in Houston and social media video posts described and showed police meeting at the Legion in Houston around 7 a.m. Monday morning before they headed out. There will be a heightened police presence in the Smithers and Houston area over the next few weeks, said RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Madonna Saunderson.

RCMP released the following statement Sunday:

“On December 14, 2018, the BC Supreme Court issued an interim injunction against protesters who interfere with the Coastal GasLink project, in and around the Morice River Bridge or the area accessed by the Morice West Forest Service Road. As with previous injunction orders and police enforcement clauses, the Court issues the Injunction Order, and then the police is given discretion to determine how and when to implement the Order.

“For the land in question, where the Unist’ot’en camp is currently located near Houston, BC, it is our understanding that there has been no declaration of Aboriginal title in the Courts of Canada. In 1997, the Supreme Court of Canada issued an important decision, Delgamuukw v. British Columbia, that considered Aboriginal title to Gitxsan and Wet’suwet’en traditional territories. The Supreme Court of Canada decided that a new trial was required to determine whether Aboriginal title had been established for these lands, and to hear from other Indigenous nations which have a stake in the territory claimed. The new trial has never been held, meaning that Aboriginal title to this land, and which Indigenous nation holds it, has not been determined. Regardless of the outcome of any such trial in the future, the RCMP is the police agency with jurisdiction.

“We would like to emphasize that the RCMP respects the Wet’suwet’en culture, the connection to the land and traditions being taught and passed on at the camp, and the importance of the camp to healing. We also recognize the importance of open and direct dialogue between all parties involved in this dispute. Through the Division Liaison Team and the Indigenous Policing Section, the RCMP have maintained a dialogue with the residents of the Unist’ot’en camp over the last several months, to discuss the possibility of an injunction order being issued and what our role is, as police of jurisdiction, in enforcing that order. Should enforcement take place, the RCMP will be prepared to ensure the safety of everyone involved – demonstrators, police officers, area residents, motorists, media and general public.

“The primary concerns of the police are public safety, police officer safety, and preservation of the right to peaceful, lawful and safe protest, within the terms set by the Supreme Court in the injunction.

“In planning for the enforcement of this injunction, police are taking the remote location of the Morice River Bridge into account and will be ensuring that enough police officers will be present in the area to keep the peace and ensure everyone’s safety. We also want to assure the residents that the day to day policing operations within the Houston area will be unaffected throughout the enforcement of the injunction.

“We will continue to monitor the situation and work with all stakeholders to provide assistance as necessary in maintaining peace and keeping everyone safe.”

According to a release from the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, rallies across Canada were being held Tuesday in Calgary, Chilliwack, Cortes Island, Edmonton, Halifax, Hamilton, Lilooet, Kitchener Waterloo, Mi’kma’ki, Montreal, Nelson, North Bay, Ottawa, Prince George, Regina, Rexton, Saskatoon, Six Nations, Thunder Bay, Toronto, Vancouver, Victoria, Winnipeg and White Horse. Rallies were taking place internationally in Bellingham, Flagstaff, Milan, San Francisco, and Seattle.

All 20 elected First Nation bands along the pipeline route have signed benefit agreements with the company, including Wet’suwet’en bands like Witset. The Band said it would provide $55.4 million in payments over the life of the project on top of the jobs and training for locals. A secret ballot re-vote last year after the Band’s last election affirmed its agreement, with two-thirds of the new council voting for it.

READ MORE: LNG pipeline hiring as Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs resist

According to Coastal GasLink, it has employed 84 Wet’suwet’en members to conduct fieldwork. It also said $620 million in contract work has been awarded to Indigenous businesses for the project’s right of way.

The Unist’ot’en camp was set up to block pipelines, with emphasis on the now-cancelled Northern Gateway oil pipeline. It has expanded to include several buildings, including a three-storey healing centre that the camp describes as a “home to Wet’suwet’en community members who are receiving holistic and land based treatment for addictions.”

The camp has declared that it is reclaiming lands they were displaced from. It has said it is fighting against mining companies, over logging, grazing leases on their hunting areas, over hunting, and oil and gas pipelines. Buildings have been built at the site over the last several years.

APTN reported Wet’suwet’en Tsayu (Beaver clan) Chief and spokesperson for the Office of the Wet’suwet’en Namox (John Ridsdale) saying that three female hereditary chiefs have been stripped of their names for supporting the pipeline. In an interview with The Interior News, he described the “vast majority” of Wet’suwet’en people as being against the pipeline.

The Gitdumden checkpoint was established Dec. 17 shortly after the original interim injunction, which was later extended to include any blockades south of Houston.

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RCMP arrive at the Gitdumden checkpoint Monday morning. (Unist’ot’en Facebook photo)

Stikine MLA and Rural Development Minister Doug Donaldson (right) meets Sunday with Gitdumden checkpoint spokesperson Molly Wickham (left) and Unist’ot’en and Gitdumden supporter Mel Bazil. Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP Nathan Cullen said he would also be making his way to the camp. (Twitter photo)

Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs with Unist’ot’en spokesperson and Witset Band councillor Freda Huson. (Unist’ot’en Camp Facebook photo)

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